This past Saturday and Sunday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its 179th Semi-Annual General Conference, at which Latter-day Saints (Mormons) gathered to hear sermons from their ecclesiastical leaders. At the afternoon session held on Sunday October 4, 2009, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered a 16-minute address that quickly became the talk of the 10-hour-long conference. The text of all General Conference addresses are available at the LDS church's web site. The text of Elder Holland's address can be found here. The church web site also makes the talks available in audio and video formats. After the jump, I embed the talk as it appears on YouTube, in two parts, and then provide my commentary on it. In sum, Elder Holland's talk is rife with lies and logical fallacies, and relies on emotional and psychological manipulation rather than rational argument to affect his audience.
The LDS church teaches that people like me, i.e., former members of the church, are destined to be miserable, and that we are in the clutches of Satan. We are as Judas--traitors who would kill Christ if we could. This sounds harsh, and indeed it is. It sounds like one of those old 19th-century teachings (like blood atonement) that the church has swept under the rug. But, alas, this is one of the old teachings that is still alive and kicking in the modern church. In the current manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, published at the direction of the First Presidency (and the only extra-scriptural material permitted to be used by Priesthood and Relief Society teachers in the church) is found lesson number 27, titled "Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy." From that lesson comes this quote, which is representative of the tenor and thrust of the entire lesson:
[A]postates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes. From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.
There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned. When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors. . . .
. . .
When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant.
I believe that one reason why active Mormons often choose not to associate at all with former members of the church is that they actually believe that former members are possessed by Satan, as the above quote from Joseph Smith unequivocally states.
Guy Harrison has authored a book called 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God. In it, Harrison lists the things that people typically say to support their belief in deity and then asks provocative questions about the reasons given, and discusses the answers rationally. I haven't read the book, but thought it would be fun to provide my own one-line commentary on each of the 50 reasons given. So here goes:
1. My god is obvious. Not to me.
2. Almost everybody on Earth is religious. So? At times in world history, almost everyone believed the earth to be flat.
3. Faith is a good thing. Faith is neutral. It is good or bad depending on the object on which it rests.
4. Archaeological discoveries prove that my god exists. I call BS. Show me one.
5. Only my god can make me feel significant. Says a lot about you, not so much about god.
6. Atheism is just another religion. Only if you define religion so broadly as to have it lose all meaning.
7. Evolution is bad. Non sequitur.
8. Our world is too beautiful to be an accident. Seen any pictures out of Sudan lately?
9. My god created the universe. Well, if you say so...
10. Believing in my god makes me happy. That's nice.
11. Better safe than sorry. How safe is it, really? Are you sure you picked the right one out of the millions of gods out there to choose from?
12. A sacred book proves my god is real. Which book? Which god? Apply this to others who claim the same.
13. Divine justice proves my god is real. The lack of any evidence for such justice in the world tends toward the opposite conclusion.
14. My god answers prayers. All of them? If not, why not?
15. I would rather worship my god than the devil. False dichotomy.
16. My god heals sick people. But only some of them, right? So the suffering in the world is evidence that your god is a sadist, no? Why doesn't your god heal amputees?
17. Anything is better than being an atheist. Are you sure? Try it, you might like it.
18. My god made the human body. So you worship the Earth?
19. My god sacrificed his only son for me. Sounds like your god is a sick sonofabitch. If I killed my son and said I did it for you, what would you think of me?
20. Atheists are jerks who think they know everything. Some of them. But what do you call someone who overgeneralizes about a whole class of people?
21. I don't lose anything by believing in my god. Just your freedom.
22. I didn't come from a monkey. Who said you did, you moron?
23. I don't want to go to hell. Don't worry, you won't.
24. I feel my god when I pray. Quit putting your hand down your pants when you kneel.
25. I need my god to protect me. From your fellow believers, no doubt.
26. I want eternal life. Be careful what you wish for. See, e.g., the Highlander series.
27. Without my god we would have no sense of right and wrong. You need a book and preacher to tell you that murder is wrong? Really?
28. My god makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. So does rooting for your favorite college football team.
29. My religion makes more sense than all the others. With all due respect, that's not a very high hurdle.
30. My god changes lives. For better or worse?
31. Intelligent design proves my god is real. I agree--your god is about as authentic as the science behind intelligent design.
32. Millions of people can't be wrong about my religion. Whatever your religion, millions more don't believe it than do.
33. Miracles prove my god is real. Is David Blaine god? Criss Angel?
34. Religion is beautiful. If you think Afghani schoolgirls with disfigured faces from having acid thrown at them because they were getting an education is beautiful, then sure, it's gorgeous.
35. Some very smart people believe in my god. Some very smart people drank the Kool-Aid in Jonestown.
36. Ancient prophecies prove my god exists. Name one.
37. No one has ever disproved the existence of my god. No one has ever disproved the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, either.
38. People have gone to heaven and returned. People claim to have been abducted by aliens? Do you believe them?
39. Religion brings people together. Yes, it's working out so well for India and Pakistan. Or the Palestinians and Israel.
40. My god inspires people. To do what? Strap bombs to their chests?
41. Science can't explain everything. Give it time.
42. Society would fall apart without religion. Because it's doing so well with religion, right?
43. My religion is so old, it must be true. So what was the basis for believing it when it was new and competing with older religions?
44. Someone I trust told me that my god is real. Someone I trust once told me to buy Enron stock.
45. Atheism is a negative and empty philosophy. Why so negative? Don't you have anything positive to offer?
46. Believing in a god doesn't hurt anyone. Ever heard of Brenda and Erica Lafferty?
47. The earth is perfectly tuned to support life. Duh. If it weren't, we wouldn't be here.
48. Believing is natural so my god must be real. If I believe in unicorns, are they real?
49. The end is near. Only if religious people get their way.
50. I am afraid of not believing. Finally, the real root of religious belief--fear.
Last week, I posted on What I Want for My Daughters. This week I post on What I Want for My Son.
I want my son to know that he is loved no matter what he believes about God, Jesus, Joseph Smith, or the LDS Church. I want him to know that I respect his intelligence and his freedom to think for himself and to choose for himself, and that his parents' love for him is not conditioned on his believing in or practicing any particular religion, going on a mission, being straight, or marrying in the temple.
I want my son to grow up with the ability to analyze facts, assess evidence, and critically evaluate arguments he reads or hears. I want him to feel free to choose an educational and career path that fits his interests and talents, and not to feel pressured to go to a specific college or enter a certain professional field. I want him to possess a thirst for knowledge and a zeal for discovering truth, wherever it might be found and wherever it might lead.
I've just finished listening to my friend John Dehlin's latest podcasts with Paul Toscano, one of the illustrious (or notorious, depending on one's perspective) September Six, having been excommunicated in September 1993 for having ideas that Boyd K. Packer disagreed with. I have listened to nearly all of John's podcasts at both Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters, and I think this is his best interview yet. Toscano had my laugh tears flowing in episodes 4 and 5. I found myself cheering when he said (I paraphrase) that he would put his body count of destroyed testimonies against Boyd Packer's any day. I found myself once again distressed and distraught at the treatment he and his family received at the hands of church authorities at every level. His only "sin" was thinking, believing, and speaking ideas not understood or believed by those in positions of authority in the LDS Church. Many people have commented that the LDS Church used to be more fun and exciting than today's staid, correlated cookie-cutter church. Part of the reason is that the church has given the boot to folks like the Toscanos. While I don't think I ever shared either Paul's or Margaret's understanding of Mormon theology, I would have loved to have had people like them in my ward--people who are passionate about studying the scriptures and exploring the ramifications of the doctrines Joseph Smith taught. I am not really sure what Boyd Packer feared from the Toscanos. I think the church would be enriched by having a diversity of thought and opinion freely expressed. I like Paul Toscano's vision of the church as a family, where the ordinances are what make the church unique, and people are free to explore, discuss, and disagree--even with the apostles--on matters of faith and doctrine.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did and will comment freely. Mormon Stories regulates comments from non-believers, disaffected members, and former Mormons. Equality Time is the place to comment if you want to say anything that would not be appropriate for Sunday School.
This week's recommended site I stumbled upon recently. It's a huge site dedicated to giving "just the facts" about the world's many religions (or at least the most popular ones). It's called Religion Facts.
Some have asked me: "If you think Mormonism is not a good fit for you any longer, what would you replace it with?" I'm still on that journey of self-discovery myself and sites like Religion Facts I find useful in giving some direction to that search. Right now, I lean toward Unitarian Universalism. I like its openness, lack of dogma, and the healthy attitudes I think it transmits to children. Whether it remains a viable long-term solution for me, I do not know. But it appeals both to my mind and my heart right now. I hope you enjoy this week's recommended site.
When I concluded that the LDS Church was not what it claimed to be and not what I had once thought it was, I experienced a range of emotions: deep sadness, humiliation, and an existential despair punctuated by periods of relief, hope, and exhilaration, to name a few. But in shedding a world view that had informed my every thought and action, I struggled to get my bearings. Mormonism, for all its faults, does provide a framework and structure for "raising up children in the way that they should go." It provides a road map for the lives of our children, literally from the time of birth well into adulthood. Mormon children are blessed as infants, baptized at eight, given countless activities and programs and checklists with clearly identified objectives, indoctrinated every school day for four years in high school, and encouraged to look forward to missions, church colleges, and marriage in the temple. It's all scripted, and Mormon parents need only "plug-and-play" the resources provided by the church to raise their children with the beliefs and values church leaders consider most important. Upon realizing that Mormonism's foundational truth claims are bogus, I wondered whether the "goodness" of Mormonism was more important than my sense of its "untruthiness." I pondered whether, despite my dismissal of the church's truth claims, the church's values and its substantial resources for instilling those values nonetheless provided a reasonable basis for raising my children in the church. I thought about what the church teaches kids about themselves, the world around them, and their own potential. And I thought about what I want my kids, especially my daughters, to internalize. I could not help but conclude that . . .
With all the great resources out there for people who are engaged in religious studies generally and Mormon studies in particular, I thought I would start a new recurring feature here at Equality Time to help people find the best blogs and web sites out there on the "Internets" that deal with these subjects. For the inaugural post in what I intend to be a regular series, I feature a newly created blog by a talented artist (who, it seems, at this point wants to remain anonymous). The blog is called Images of the Restoration. The author/artist of this blog has created a number of compelling depictions of events from Mormon history--events that Mormon apologists, studious members of the LDS Church who venture outside the correlated materials, and critics of the LDS Church alike are aware of but which are seldom if ever mentioned or depicted in official LDS Church lesson materials.
Mormon apologists sometimes argue that the LDS Church, as an institution, does not whitewash or cover up its history, and that blame for artwork in church manuals, etc. that is not historically accurate should be laid at the feet of the artists and not the church that uses their work. Critics disagree, and sometimes point to the way the translation of the Book of Mormon is most often portrayed in church-approved and distributed print and visual media. For example, the following pictures are probably familiar to most members of the LDS Church:
In following up on the story about the excommunication of Mesa, Arizona church member Lyndon Lamborn, I emailed Lyndon asking for more details about the circumstances surrounding his excommunication. He kindly responded and, with his permission, I post his response here. The words are entirely his (with a few minor editorial revisions to clean up typos or protect the identity of those whose permission for revealing their identity I did not obtain). Some of his words are stronger than what I would have chosen to use, but I think his story is important, and it has garnered enough interest, to share it here uncensored and not watered down. The words following the jump are Lyndon's own, and it is my understanding they were originally written in response to further media inquiries. My thanks to Lyndon for allowing me to share this with the readers of Equality Time.
One of the things I have noticed during my religious odyssey is that believing mormons and disaffected mormons describe the process of changing one's religious beliefs in very different terms. To a believing mormon, one who no longer believes "fell away", and that's if they're being nice. Sometimes the more clinical word "apostatized" is used. While arguably technically correct, there is a connotation about that word that I don't like.
I have come up with a new phrase that I think more accurately describes my process. I have left the cave.